Knocking on the door gave her the same sensation as hitting the ground after being thrown from a horse. In the same way, she wasn’t sure how it had happened – couldn’t quite remember walking up the hall, or raising her hand, or even, after a short moment, what sound her knuckles had made against the wood – and then she didn’t breathe. Her lungs pulled at the air on their own. It didn’t seem to fill her.
She forced herself to ease back on her heels, knowing he wasn’t going to answer the door on the first knock. Malak was going to make her wait, if for no other reason than that he was still screwing up his courage to open the door. She shut her eyes to keep herself from glancing over her shoulder. She took a deep breath. Then she knocked again.
The door eased open, and he was hiding his left arm behind it. It should have been an easy thing to do, something she wouldn’t notice, but he stayed too close to the swinging edge of it, hid half his chest as well.
“Sana,” he said. He smiled at her in bright relief. “I didn’t think you would come.”
I shouldn’t have, she meant to say. It seemed too crass on her tongue, and too forgiving. Instead, she slid past him into the cramped room. Malak shut the door carefully behind her and she tried not to notice the thin silver glint on the knife in his hand.
He hadn’t been able to get anything from home, but the room still looked torn up and too-full. The blanket was balled up on the foot of the bed. There was a towel on the floor. The pitcher was out of the wash bowl, sitting precariously on the edge of the stand. The blinds, shut tight, still managed to be uneven. Turning to look at him, Sana felt crushed by it all, and she kept her arms close to her sides, hands in her pockets.
Malak looked at her tiredly, still trying to smile. “I need your help,” he said.
“I figured that bit out,” she murmured.
“I just need a way off the island,” he said.
Her lips curved up, but it didn’t feel like a smile. “Is that all?”
“If you could go down to the docks…”
She shook her head without looking at him.
“Just find me a Captain that won’t ask questions. There’s got to be ten of them in port. Please, Sana.”
“How would you pay him?” she asked.
Malak hesitated. “If I could borrow…”
Silently, she gave a weak laugh.
“Sana, please,” he said again. “I just need to get away for a little while, until all this clears up. I just need to get to the mainland.”
She blinked at the floor. None of it was funny, but she couldn’t shake her smile away. “You just need me to find you a Captain who will agree to take you aboard without knowing who you are and for me to pay your passage – no, your secret passage – for months…”
“I know, I know,” he said. “It’s a lot, but I can’t stay here.”
Malak met her eye too easily, pleaded too earnestly. In an instant, she knew she couldn’t stand it for another moment. Taking a step toward the door, she knew she would have left him without another word if he hadn’t grabbed her arm. She twisted under his hand, yanked out of his grasp and shoved him backward. She still would have left, but he grabbed for her again, and she ducked close, grabbed his collar in both fists and slammed him into the wall.
He stared at her.
“Sana,” he whispered.
She shoved him back against the wall, his head knocking against the paneling. Then she took a slow, unsteady breath.
“Captain Brieri,” she hissed. “She sails The Credence. She’ll put out to sea tomorrow at first tide. And she’s expecting you after midnight.”
He gaped now. “Really?”
“Your passage is paid,” she snapped. “She promises to take you as far as the Northern cliffs, any farther and you’ll have to negotiate yourself.”
“You already arranged it?” he asked. He blinked down at her.
She gave Malak one more hard shove and uncoiled her fingers from his collar. She had been leaning on him too, and she pushed away. Righting herself felt like rolling time backward, like forgetting, and a little like falling off that horse again. She headed for the door.
“There will be a cart in the street under your window tonight,” she said. She waved at the disarranged blinds. “The driver will be wearing a blue hood and whistling A Ram Sam Sam. He’ll get you where you need to go.”
Her hand was on the doorknob before Malak stopped her again. He only used a whisper.
“You’re not going to ask me if I did it?”
Sana hesitated. “Am I going to ask my brother if he actually murdered someone?” She blinked at the door while she formed the words, then turned her head and looked at him incredulously. She shook her head. “I swore Da taught us both better.”
Tugging the door open, she left before she could decide to stay for one more round.